“Sooner or later, people will do most of their reading on portable digital devices. If this horrifies you, then worry not: You have some time. But if you’re impatient for the paperless future, you can embrace it now. Sony has introduced the USD 350,- Reader e-book and the 10000-title, big-publishing house backed Connect e-book store. The one-time consumer-electronics superpower clearly hopes the pair will become something of an iPod + iTunes for books.”
Review: Sony eBook Reader
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2006-10-15 12:42 pmTroels
If it is to be useable for anything but plain text it will need to display colors as well.
And, as the author also talks about, i think for this thing to be really useful it also has to interface with a computer, i could see this being really useful for storing reports, documentation, presentations, etc. Also i see no mention of magazines and newspaper downloads for it.
In its current incarnation i just see no benefit over paper books, sure it is more portable than a stack of books, but it is not like i read more than one book at a time, so that point is kinda moot. I find the paperback to be a pretty good medium for front to back reading, and for me to find use for an electronic book it would basically have to be able to replace everything that is currently on paper, not just front to back books. It unfortunately looks like i will have to wait a long time for a device like that.
this product is a failure. Like the article says there is no innovation except for the materials used. The best part of digital content is that searches are many folds faster than finding content in a paper based book and you can connect contents in ways impossible for paper based content. Yet, Sony has completely missed the point and created yet another useless niche device. There is no way that the ebook reader is the next iPod. After all the iPod keeps all the reasons why people started ripping CDs and yet adds even more features like the largest music store in the world. Also ever since the original iPod came out Apple hasn’t stopped improving the product and the services that they offer while Sony has the tendency of abandoning half-arsed projects.
I wish it wasn’t so but I’m waiting for the real ebook reader to arrive.
There have been numerous attempts to make devices like this acceptable to people other than uber geeks. So far all have failed. IMHO, this will go the same way as the others especially if the items your were reading are DRM’d up to the hilt.
It also required this thing called Electricity. Every time you want to read something, you consume watts of power. With a book, once it has been printed, transported and sold there is not (or very little) ongoing cost to being able to read the information contained within.
Could you imaging yourself trying to use such a device while lying in bed? A book is far easier to use…
Agree with the author – okay I do not know the device – but what Sony has brought out there is not enough on its own & I expected a lot more from Sony .
IMO the potential market for these is oviously gigantic .
Perhaps in the future replacing some of these fancy handheld computers .
Well my guess is that for most people these Windows Mobile & Palm etc things are overkill .
With advances in batteries & or solar technology with smaller chips – couldnt we end up with wireless communication colour flexible electronic paper with either speech recognition or handwriting recognition ?
Just my uninformed thought
Could you imagine to use only this device to keep all your university books.
that would be fantastic, and the e-books would be easily updated, and books downloaded from the library.
cool. a revolution.
This device has its uses right now. It’s not something I would use for every day reading or for the college student but I think it would be excellent for someone needing a technical manual out in the field. Just whip this out, go to the appropriate chapter, follow the step by step instructions on how to perform the task at hand. I think that would be the real use of this type of device.
Hmmm… I thought that an initial article(and Sony’s page) that I saw on this device when first released mentioned something about being able to load web content and other user content onto the device. The review doesn’t mention this and would seem to imply that Sony is continuing with their proprietary content only methodology, which is why their prior device failed. Does anyone else know for certain if user content may be added to the device?
A veteran of ebook on Palms, PocketPCs, Franklin eBookmen, and Nuvomedia/Gemstar Rocket ebook(unfortunately dead ATM).
So, onto other comments wrt to the “review”:
Palm’s ebook reader ALWAYS had the most content back in the day. The online store ALWAYS had much more than just Star Trek books, which is pretty much all MS had at the same time, well those along with whatever current flakey “bestsellers” were out.
Franklin never had much, and never did end up supporting MS reader, but you could load your own content using either palm reader format, franlin’s own format, or Mobi(the best as it supported a subset of HTML and could “book format” generic web pages.)
The Nuvomedia/Gemstar Rocket/e-book had the second best content and by far the best screen(almost white background, but not as good contrast as say the mono palms and the franklin) and LONG battery life. I EASILY would get 30 or so hours out of a charge on the Rocketbook. The problem with the rocketbook was when gemstar took over you had to track down an older version of Nuvomedia’s publishing software or use third party utilities to create “books” in Nuvomedia format, which supported an even more limited subset of HTML than any of the other solutions, but had 2 font sizes and the ability to load standard fonts(one at a time) onto the device if you so chose. (I ended up keeping the default fonts as others just never seemed right, especially with the poor screen contrast.) For all of it’s shortcoming the nuvomedia reader was the best, and AFAIK fictionwise.com is still selling gemstar surplus for c. $100, although the reader no longer uses the Nuvomedia OS, they use the other one that gemstar bought out. (I’ve forgotten the name of that company, but it had a color device with LOUSY battery life, but a larger screen…) This means that getting your own content onto the Rocket ebook is a little more difficult or at least it was when Gemstar was running things. Fictionwise MAY have made this easier, but even then there were work arounds for the “updated” Rocket ebook. (BTW: it is the same old hardware, just a different OS…)
(I’ve also tried other devices as readers, e.g. Agenda’s VR3, VTech Helio, Newton Messagepad, but they all lack format support for anything other than basic palm doc if even that.)
Biggest drawback of all readers so far: No good way to convert pdf files(which alot of technical documentation and some books come in) into a similarly formatted text that may be read on an electronic device. i.e. converting pdf to html or other style preserving format doesn’t work very well with the free and/or inexpensive tools that are intended to do this, esp[ecially if the original pdf file makes heavy use of more complex formatting options, e.g. multiple columns…)
In response to the below comment: $350 is NOT a bad price if the device can also be made to perform a few more generic functions as well, but see above wrt c. $100 rocket ebook, yo may want one of those. The WORST part of the e-readers are the prices that they try to charge you for e-books, they are usually at most a $1 or $2 cheaper than a physical copy. e.g. that $24 hardcover bestseller will like run you $23 for electronic form, no deals to be had. Not to mention if the company goes bellyup, your reader breaks, etc. your expensive content is now totally useless. Time to buy it yet again if it really mattered to you…
Edited 2006-10-15 15:27
2006-10-15 7:32 pmdirtyepic
According to the site it displays TXT, RTF, unencrypted PDF, their own BBeB format encrypted or unencrypted, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, and plays unDRMed MP3 and AAC audio. It can import Microsoft Word documents, which it converts to RTF.
Too bad no CHM though.
* $350 for a machine to read books on, and that’s all it does??? Forget it.
* I just dropped my $350 eReader, now the screen is cracked!!! Forget this!
* Wow, I guess taking my $350 eReader to the beach really was a bad idea. Who knew sand and water could do so much damage to expensive electronics???
Paper books are cheap, convenient, easily transportable, don’t run out of power. Until someone builds an eReader that at least costs under $100, is waterproof and seriously ruggedized then they will never be more than a niche product.
I can see a definite place for eBooks in the education sector. Each school board could pick and choose from a digital curriculum (school wiki anyone?) that is peer reviewed and constantly updated rather than paying publishers for static books that subsequently have to be reused for several years.
Well this would finally make project gutenberg useful to me. I can’t stand reading stuff off a screen for too long.
booo! Nothing beats real paper when reading. I have ebooks on my Palm, but its just not the same. a paperless future will suck.
Is it just me, or does it look like a grey etch-a-sketch on it’s side?
Either that or one of the early Palm handhelds.
At $350, this is simply too expensive for most users; you can buy a low-end PC for that much. I think there is a potentially large market for e-books, but any e-book reader needs to be flexible in what it can display e.g. HTML, PDF, Word docs (or at least some type of conversion software).
I have tons of PDFs – I hate reading them online but I don’t want to print them all out. An e-book reader with a high-quality display would be perfect for this. I actually think e-book manufacturers are wasting their time trying to entice us with fiction books. I think the appeal of an e-book reader is far greater for non-fiction and reference works. Imagine an animated cookbook that showed you how to prepare ingredients, or a DIY reference that illustrated various projects. Or a giant programmers reference book that didn’t take up space on your bookshelf.
Interestingly, the old Sony Clie (Palm OS) had a B&W display with a resolution of 160dpi and that was almost 5 years ago. I realise it’s easy to go overboard and turn an e-book reader into a mini computer, but right now, Sony’s product is just too basic for the price.
I would love to have a “true” ebook. For what ? well, in my case, for reading technical documentation and research papers, possibly some websites. Another excellent usage would be to read newspapers and magazines, or research journals. Or if you are a student, another really obvious target are textbooks. And think about the manga/comics market.
Why would it be interesting to have an ebook for all that ? What’s the pattern ? Simply, it’s the volume: in all these use cases, you end up with lots of paper very easily, and having one device to gather everything would be nice.
But books ? books do not really have a volume problem — most persons do not read or carry dozen of books at the same time, and the minor inconvenience to carry 2-3 books for a very long journey is not enough to warrant paying premium to have an ebook. Sure, if you have a device able to read pdf and newspapers, it can handles a book, so you’ll have books too of course. Having your whole library in one device could be appealing to some too, I guess. But if the main advantage of an ebook reader is answering the “volume” problem, then it means books almost certainly shouldn’t be the main target.
So if books aren’t (or should not be) the real target, and if things like documentation, newspapers, textbooks are, what does it means ? Well, it means your device should provide the same features you’d expect from paper when dealing with these. Specifically, you absolutely need annotation. But more than annotation, the device shouldn’t be content to only be “as good as paper” — if you want people to buy it, you need to be better. An obvious candidate feature (come on, we are talking about electronic documents) is to provide a much better way to manage your document collection. Things like searching, grouping, sorting, adding whatever annotation/metadata you want, do specific things that use these categories (like marking some documents, pages or text to be sent to somebody else via email, etc)…
Then, you will have something that people (and companies, and schools) might be interested in.
The screen technology is imho nearly irrelevant, as long as the battery life is good enough (~10 hours in continuous usage) and with a good enough resolution. While e-ink is extremely interesting and answers perfectly the battery/resolution problem, it’s too slow for the moment (it’s also black and white, not absolutely dramatic but something that reduce a bit its impact). Between an e-ink display and a high resolution lcd screen, even if the battery life would be much shorter on the device with the lcd screen, if it provides the kind of characteristics I described above, I will definitely choose it over the e-ink display, and I bet that many persons would do just the same.
Right now, the sony ebook looks more like a solution looking for a problem than anything else, and they focus their efforts on the wrong side (books).
They fail at everything I described above: it’s slow to navigate, management of your documents seems inexistant, pdf aren’t even there apparently (seriously!), no annotations… the only good thing (while not perfect) is the e-ink display, but they seem to think it’s enough. It’s not.
2006-10-15 10:32 pmwalterbyrd
>>I would love to have a “true” ebook. . . . Simply, it’s the volume: in all these use cases, you end up with lots of paper very easily, and having one device to gather everything would be nice.<<
Why not just use a laptop or PDA? Why not put ebooks on a web-site?
Who needs yet another expensive, easily breakable, device to carry with you all the time? Lemme see, I got my cell-phone, my PDA, my iPod . . . .
2006-10-16 7:17 amalcibiades
While not being completely convinced by this device, the answer to why not use a laptop is the screen, which in turn is a main source of the battery life issue. If you want a screen which requires minimal power and can be read in all sorts of light, and if you want 20+ hours of battery life, this is the only type, and it is not usable in laptops because of response and color issues.
The influence of the iPod/iTunes business model is clear: what they would like to do is get an exclusive on electronic publishing with a couple of publishing houses. Then, the books will be sold in proprietary format. Then, while you may use 90% your own non-proprietary books, still, if you want to read the ones you have bought, your next ebook reader is going to have to be a Sony.
This model has dire implications for intellectual freedom if it becomes general, so if we buy ebook readers, we should at all costs avoid the proprietary format ebook stores.
The iLiad device is also interesting though more expensive.
I was at the Sony store here in the Chicagoland area, and their eBook display was a disaster. They had three units, one wouldn’t power on, another had what could be best described as a “pixel blotch or smudge problem, but a third one did work. That unit simply didn’t seem practical to me for reasons already mentioned on this site. Frankly, I have been getting more and more dissapointed in Sony these days.
An eBook Reader should have really long battery life, I mean this ain’t processor intensive stuff is it? It should have colour and a decent gray scale; lets be honest if done right this would have made a great avenue for magazine distribution. One should easily be able to import docs from editors like Word or OpenOffice or PDFs. Make it lightweight, if you’re reading a book either in bed or on your lunch break, it can’t weigh as much as a tablet PC. Make it durable and easy to use, grandma should be able to use it and should she accidentally drop it, it won’t become a paperweight. All this is doable now, and can be done where the final product is affordable to most. There is no reason for an eBook reader with these basic features for $75, let alone $350!
Edited 2006-10-15 17:11
Does this work with any format ebook or does it require some proprietary DRM riddled format like the typical Sony product? Doesn’t matter, that is way too expensive for a reader. I can get a cheap pda on eBay that reads eBooks and does tons of other stuff as well if I wanted one. I just can’t see this thing being popular. There have been many dedicated ebook readers made in the last decade or so and none of them have really been successful.
Formats natively supported
Adobe® PDF, JPEG, BBeB Book and plain text formats natively supported. HTML and other text formats require conversion using included software.
This comes directly off their website. BBeB us their proprietary format with built in DRM.
I have a Dell Axim X51V handheld, and I can get ebooks in a number of formats on it, all for free from the local library. You “borrow” them for 3 weeks just like a regular book, but you don’t have to worry about taking them back or losing them. And we’re talking about best sellers here along with the classics that have long since been in the public domain.
Yeah, my X51v cost more than $350.00 USD, but it’s much more than an ebook reader. And there are PDA’s out there for less than $350.00 USD that are more than adequate for reading ebooks.
While I do agree with many of the criticisms in the comments here, I’ve recently purchases the sony reader and have found it to be a very nice device. The price is definitely high and the lack of search/dictionary/annotation makes an absolute no-go for many situations.
However, many of the comments here are misguided:
1) The battery life on this is incredible. I’ve had it for a week and half now and haven’t charged it once, while having read 2.5 average-sized books, listened to some MP3s while reading, and read daily news on it.
2) The device does a lot more than “just read” such as play music (while reading, if wanted), photo slideshows, read RTF, word docs (through conversion), txt, PDF, and Sony’s BBeB. However, the main selling point is the great screen and good reading experience.
3) This thing is far easier to handle than a pBook. You only need one hand. It’s very light (9oz.) but not flimsy. The screen is really easy to ready and unlike a pBook you can bump up the font size if you need to.
In short, while the ebook concept in general and this device itself still fall short of the ideal in many ways, there are big undeniable advantages and the Sony Reader very well may be the best so far. I know I enjoy reading on it a lot and I encourage people to check out the e-ink screen if they ever get a chance.
I think this was already tried, and failed, some time ago.
Anybody know more about it?
I too can see a possible future for these in education, but apart from that, thinking that the paper book would be inferior to that device doesn’t seem reasonable to me.
Like someone mentioned above, books are incredibly practical: you can take them to the beach, travel with them without giving them too much special care and if you lose a book, it won’t be such a big loss. Losing or damaging that electronic device, instead, seems a lot more annoying.
Not to mention that being an avid reader of novels, I really can’t imagine using such a device to read a book. It would be almost as annoying as reading it with Acrobat Reader. Example: pick up a book of short stories and read one at random. Even if this was possible on the electronic book, only *you* will know where to search for a random story in the book: you will always know, more or less, where those you have already read are. Even reading a random page from a novel is really nice sometimes. A book is not as simply structured as those devices need it to be.
Again, what about people who like writing on their books, adding personal notes and corrections, or print-outs of errata corrige between pages? Scientific and educational books in general would only suffer from this. Or in a textbook, you will often add a little mark next to those exercises you’ve already done.
There are so many examples I could make of why an electronic book will always be inferior to the traditional paper books. And this is from a person who spends most of his time on a computer.
Sometimes the best tools for a specific task have already been invented thousands of years ago. Why insist on trying to replace one that works so well? It would be like trying to replace forks and knives.
Edited 2006-10-16 08:18
2006-10-19 12:04 pmmsundman
> Example: pick up a book of short stories and read one
> at random.
It’s as easy to pick one at random from a list as it is to pick a random place in a p-book. In fact, e-books are easier, because:
– It can show which of the titles you’ve already marked as read.
– It can jump directly to the beginning of the story/chapter, whereas with a p-book you have to look for the place.
> you will always know, more or less, where those you
> have already read are
No, I won’t. Many times have I read several pages before I notice that I had already read that chapter/story. With an e-book I can clearly mark exactly what I’ve read and where I have my various bookmarks.
> what about people who like writing on their books,
> adding personal notes and corrections, or print-outs of
> errata corrige between pages?
This is an area where e-books are clearly superior. With p-books you either have to squeeze your writings in between the lines, using tiny, tiny letters that nobody will be able to read. Or if you would instead add separate sheets of paper between the pages then they might fall off, or maybe be taken out and put back in the wrong place.
On an e-book, on the other hand, you could easily add a small note-mark anywhere, that would let you read/write a note of any length. The note could then be shown inline with the text (perhaps with a different color), or be shown in a separate window that can be shown on request, or be completely hidden. Notes in e-books could have hyperlinks to the web or to different parts of the same book or a different one.
Furthermore, notes could be shared between people. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities in various contexts.
> Scientific and educational books in general would only
> suffer from this.
Scientific and educational e-books would be great if you can download additional material, such as comments and links to external resources.
> Or in a textbook, you will often add a little mark
> next to those exercises you’ve already done.
You could do the same with you e-book. But again the e-book wins because with it you can have different marks for different readers (the people, not the devices), and you can easily hide the marks.
> There are so many examples I could make of why an
> electronic book will always be inferior to the
> traditional paper books.
So why don’t you name one then? That is, something else than the price issue.
I think it’s obvious that e-books are superior in almost every way (although perhaps not the current generation of devices, and certainly not the Sony Reader). You can adjust the font sizes (most people get very bad sight when they get older), have integrated light (so that you can read in complete darkness without having to carry around an extra lamp), have hundreds or even thousands of books/mags/manuals/articles in your pocket, have integrated dictionary lookup, fast searching, flexible hyperlinking, easy to make perfect off-site backups of your books/mags/manuals/articles, automated reading with voice synthesizer, sharing comments and links with others, etc. seemingly ad infinitum.
There are very few areas where p-books are better than e-books, but humongous areas where e-books are clearly superior.
Edited 2006-10-19 12:08
I think the comparison with the iPod falls short very quickly:
With the iPod, one can compile an entire music collection to carry it around. The same is not possible with a book collection, unless you are willing to scan page after page and perform OCR on each one. Apple didn’t just make a walkman running on a hard disk. They took the concept of mobile music and brought it a step further.
Instead of simply making books with an electronic ink screen, it is the whole mobile reading experience that should be brought one step forward.
Wikipedia, RSS feeds and CSS-presented have reinforced the Web as an information resource. While browsing, it is much more likely to come across textual content that we simply don’t have the time to read rather than multimedia files. Being able to take a snapshots of these pages for later reading would be quite useful.
Much like Podcasts or videocasts, the user should be allowed to subscribe to “PDF feeds”. Newspapers could for example start offering download of low-graphics PDF publications. So instead of getting my weekly magazine delivered 3 days after it comes on the shelves, I could instantly get its PDF version from the Magazine’s site, read it whenever I find the time, and perform keyword search whenever I need it. My eBook archive could actually be used as an information database.
I never understood eBooks and eBook readers. Why can’t the book just be published on a web site using a subscription service, like O’Reilly Safari Bookshelf? Then I can use Firefox (with all my favorite extensions) to read the book. Why bother learning another UI? If eBook readers have some feature that Firefox doesn’t, like annotations, then let’s focus on adding those features to Firefox. Besides, what good are my notes if they are trapped in a eBook reader — I wan’t my notes transferred to my private blog on the web (I use a private blog for capturing research notes and ideas).
Before you say, “eBook readers don’t need internet access to work,” well, Firefox doesn’t either. O’Reilly Safari allows downloads of chapters in PDF format. (I’d prefer cached HTML served transparently from a proxy server running locally on my device, so that the unconnected experience is identical to the connected experience.)
I use a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet like this already. If I’m going to bother carrying something around, it better at least be able to access the web.
It’s a few steps forward over reading over a CRT or LCD, they need to improve the greyscale, resolution and size before it can take on a real book (ie, 300 dpi, 64+ greys and in a foldable A5 dual-screen format). I’ll be looking forward to seeing the technology improve to the point where we won’t be chopping trees down to make newspapers…